Today I bought an incredible little gem of a keyboard called the Yamaha PS-55. It’s an arranger from the early 80’s and after watching the video I posted below I knew I had to RUN back to the store and grab it quick. The used music shop actually acquired it the night before so I had all night to check it out. This is definitely the best thing I’ve picked up so far this month. I’m a real 80’s fan and the Yamaha PS-55 just oozes with the New Wave sound I grew up with from around 1980 to 1984.
The Yamaha PS-55 is an arranger which for many synth enthusiasts might be taboo a bit, but there is just so much you can do with this little number that I couldn’t pass it up. It’s also not the most pretty looking thing and I’m not big with speakers in my synths, but this keyboard has such a fun and unique sound. The condition is near perfect with everything fully functional. You can’t tweak the sounds directly, BUT you can do a lot in the way of mixing, layering, adding effects, and using functions such as the arp or duet to spice things up. I have played for about two hours with it so far and haven’t been able to break away from it. What I’ve learned so far that I like is as follows:
There are two voice layers, one called orchestra and the other solo. You can layer these while controlling the volume, or play them individually with the other turned off. It adds variation in sound to the upper half of the keyboard. I have noticed that most of the sounds are actually quite usable and excellent. If you block out the names of the voices like guitar and clarinet, it’s easier to visualize this as a synth of sorts. The sounds are very 80’s and you can DEFINITELY get a very solid and cool synthpop sound out of the Yamaha PS-55.
There is also a sustain slider that allows you to sort of control the decay of the sound to give you that class bouncy analog sound much like the Juno series. You can tap the keys and they sustain very nicely with a sort of lively feel. It’s VERY analog sounding to me with a touch of digital. OR perhaps one might look at that the other way around. Either way, it has a vintage sound for sure.
There is a Stereo Symphonic slider that is effectively a panning effect that allows you to control the direction the sound is coming from the speakers. This also works in tandem with the CHORUS and TREMELO effects to give a rotary or wavering effect. Simply brilliant!! It’s another way to make the sound come alive.
There are volume controls for almost everything that makes sound on the Yamaha PS-55. This really allows you to MIX your sounds and “parts” or “tracks” very nicely. Add in all the effects, panning, and other variables, you can really get a very nice blend of music that can sound very unique. I love the sound!!
The three main effects are vibrato, chorus, and celeste. You can only choose one at a time using the slider, BUT, they do overlap so you can blend the vibrato with chorus, or the chorus with celeste. The Celeste effect is primarily for doubling or making the sound thicker. In fact all of these effects thicken the sound greatly and are really what gives the Yamaha PS-55 that analog sound.
There is a built in String and Violin Vibrato also when using those sounds. Again, if you block out the names and simply think of these as synth voices, they sound great. The vibrato is unique bucause it pulsates in a rhythmic fashion to both fatten the sound and give it a lively vibe. Again another brillaint and unique feature.
The drums sounds a bit like a TR-606 sound and they do sound good! (Duck!) They are rough and very punchy through my Mackie mixer. The hand clap is fantastic with several variations available. Patterns are not programmable, BUT they are solid and very useful. The fill button below the left speaker is fun as heck. You just slap that button and everything freezes while a pretty cool fill cranks out. Then just hit the left keys when ready and the groove kicks in again. It really is fun to jam with.
The arp is VERY basic with only two versions, but when you use it along with the bass grooves and drum machine it becomes more lively and unique. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but when you combine everything the arp just sounds different each time and really mixes well with the arrangements. The arranger “logic” or whatever you call it inside this Yamaha PS-55 is pretty cool and it’s quite easy to get a groove going that is decent for any retro sounding song.
There is also a duet function which is the equivalent to a harmonizer of sorts. It’s added to the right part of the keyboard when active and has another variation. It really adds to the melodies or leads with the right hand so I pretty much leave it on the whole time.
On the back there is a stereo output and an aux out. There is also an aux in for feeding another audio source through the Yamaha PS-55. You can connect a sustain pedal and volume pedal if desired as well. The phones jack is on the front of the keyboard.
On board is a programmable three track recorder with which to record a drum, bass, and chord arrangement. You can then play melodies and leads on top. I haven’t used it yet because I find the live playing aspect very fun and rewarding thus far. The drums, chords, arps, and bass all play as auto if desired so you can take your hands off the keys to play leads. Then later you can trigger chord and bass changes. All of the buttons and sliders are very well placed. You can absolutely create an entire synthpop song AND play it on stage with just this keyboard. It would sound fantastic too!!!
If you ever see a Yamaha PS-35 or 55, I absolutely recommend you pick it up. It’s definitely a hidden gem and really fun to play. I must advise though that it’s probably most suited for synth users who like to incorporate new and unique stuff into their setup. It also has a very 80’s sound. It’s definitely not modern which is what I really like about it. The Yamaha PS-55 will definitely be a secret weapon in my setup, although after this article it may not be so secret anymore. Enjoy!
Here is the English Manual for the Yamaha PS-55
There are not that many videos on Youtube of either the Yamaha PS-55 or little brother PS-35 that I like, but below is one that is close. This really shows a good 80’s sound with the drums, arp, and bassline along with the sustained piano like melody. The PS-55 can definitely sound like a crappy toy in stock form, but if know what you’re doing like the guy in this video, the PS-55 then becomes a synthpop HIT!!